How to avoid plagiarism

Novice and seasoned writers alike can benefit from working on their writing style.  Some of the issues below are absolutely compulsory, others are simply stylistic preferences.  For instance, incorrectly citing another’s work can be plagiarism, which is a very serious offense.  Incorrectly using “to” instead of “too” will not result in your expulsion from school, but such mistakes certainly add up to diminish the quality of your work.  Below I discuss several issues that commonly arise in student work. Note that the new APA manual (6th edition) has complicated matters – I address some of those changes below.

A. Plagiarism

Students fail my course every semester for either accidental or intentional plagiarism. I beg of you to avoid this as it is horribly unpleasant for everyone. Even if you think you know how to avoid plagiarism, please read below to make certain!

The following are some of the most common types of plagiarism. 

  1. Exact text is copied from a source without including both (a) quotation marks, and (b) reference and page number.

For example, you see this phrase from a web page:

Registration is the process by which information is stored in long-term memory.

      You write:

Registration is the process by which information is stored in long-term memory.

This is plagiarism because you copied an exact phrase without giving the author credit and referencing it properly.  I recommend not using direct quotations at all.  They are rarely referenced correctly – don’t take the chance!  Also, a heavy reliance on direct quotes usually is a sign that the author is just trying to quickly fill the page requirement, or cover for the fact that he or she does not write well.  If you submit work in this class with more than just a couple of lines of direct quotes, I will not count them towards your page requirement.  The only time you should use direct quotes is if the author expressed an idea with such unfathomable beauty that you were brought to tears.

The proper way to cite the quote from above is as follows:

“Registration is the process by which information is stored in long-term memory” (Learning Strategies Database, 2006, Background information on memory).  The web page was called “Learning Strategies Database”, it was composed in 2006, and this quote was found under the sub-heading of “Background information on memory”.

  • Note that when you cite a direct quotation you type the page number after the year of publication.  Quoting web sites is not always so simple since there are not always specific authors or page numbers at all. Include the page number if there is one, otherwise indicate the paragraph.  For example, (Smith & Tollberg, 2006, para. 5)
  • If this quote came from a journal article, you would cite it like this: “Registration is the process by which information is stored in long-term memory” (Smith & Tollberg, 2006, p. 5).  Or, authors, year, page number.

**Note: Do not plagiarize yourself!  Pasting text from a previous paper without proper citation is plagiarism – the same rules apply to your old papers as other peoples’ work.

  1. Nearly exact text is copied from a source.  Changing a few words does not change the fact that you are using someone else’s ideas and words.

For example, you see the same phrase on a web page:

Registration is the process by which information is stored in long-term memory.

You write:

The process by which information is stored in memory is called registration (Learning Strategies Database, 2006).

This is plagiarism because this is still basically the same phrase that the original authors used.  You should totally rework the sentence so that it is in your own words.  For example:

When information is transferred into long-term memory, we say that registration has occurred (Learning Strategies Database, 2006).

  1. You copy someone else’s ideas without citing them as a reference.

For example, you see the same phrase on a web page:

Registration is the process by which information is stored in long-term memory.

You write:

When information is transferred into long-term memory, we say that registration has occurred.

This is plagiarism because you did not give credit to the original author.  Although you are not using their words, you are using their thoughts.  The solution is the same as in example 2 above – simply provide the author (or source) and the year of publication.

Again, note that direct quotations should be avoided whenever possible.  Use a direct quote only if the author wrote something with such elegance and sophistication that you feel utterly obligated to share these exact words – otherwise you should use your own!  Turning in a paper that consists largely of quotations is not acceptable.

Finally, note that when I review drafts prior to your final draft that I do not run it through turnitin.com and thus cannot determine whether it is plagiarized. It is entirely on you to avoid plagiarism!

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